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NJ-based collective Elk City reveals all with 'Above The Water' album release

21 October 2022

Let’s start with a bit of background. Tell me about the musical path that got you all to where you are today and brought you together as Elk City. Were you always a New Jersey band?

Ray: Our path is long. Renee and I started Elk City in 1999 as a trio. Our first few albums and EPs were with that early line-up. We’ve altered line-ups and approaches along the way. Though we have the studio in New Jersey, we’ve always thought of ourselves as a NY/NJ band because we always have a few members who live in New York.

Renée: We’ve played a million shows in NYC, Brooklyn, and all over Europe. We’ve kept doing what we do because of our deep love for creating original music. It all goes back to that: A deep love for creating.

Your latest singles, “That Someone” and “Your Times Doesn’t Exist,” seem to revel in the classic sounds of New York, female-fronted icons such as Blondie and Patti Smith. Is there a mindful drive to make music in this vein, or is this just unconsciously what your writing process produces?

Ray: It’s completely unconscious. We gather in our rehearsal room to write, which is basically just playing together with no preconceived plan. The songs we write come from inspired moments when the tape is rolling. Everyone playing whatever they want to hear – reacting to each other. Renee has the unique ability to improvise melodies and lyrics on the spot, and we often use 80% of what happens from these inspired jams. There is never any discussion about influences, but we share common sensibilities.

Renée: We didn’t set out to make music in the vein of classic NYC female-fronted bands. By the way, thank you! That said, I did grow up in New Jersey, so the Blondie and Patti Smith comparisons are surely deep seeded in my subconscious.

With your new album, Above The Water coming out soon, please tell us about this. What else can we expect from this album?

Ray: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll float above the water.

Renée: You’ll join a cult, go by your cult-given name, lose 10 pounds, and get ripped AF.

With five albums, 3 EPs and numerous singles behind you, what has changed over the years regarding how you work?

Ray: Advancements in technology have made tracking our writing sessions faster, but our approach is the same. We still gather in a rehearsal room and make things work in the same way. Now we can always record to multi-track, which wouldn’t have been possible in the past.

Renée: It’s funny, except for technological advancements, nothing has really changed about the way we work. We are, essentially, a studio jam band that improvises every writing session and captures each session with whatever recording technology is happening at the time.

Is it easier to be a working band today than when you started? Can you tell us about your members?

Ray: It’s easier to release music than ever, but I think being a band is harder. There’s a lot of noise from social media that is time-consuming and mostly a distraction.

Regarding our members: we’ve been lucky to have Sean Eden from Luna with us since 2007. Sean is an incredible guitarist, I’m not sure many Luna fans have noticed his work with us.

When Luna reformed and we were concerned about Sean’s schedule, we added guitarist Chris Robertson, who has played with Psychedelic Furs side project, Feed. Chris is one of the best musicians we’ve worked with. Then in 2018, we added Richard Baluyut on bass. I mixed the last few releases for Versus and Flower, so we became friends and we wanted him to join Elk City.

Renée: In some ways, it’s easier to be in a working band today: The immediacy of promoting music and live shows online. However, much of the mystery is gone. We were inspired to start bands because of the mystery: Another aspect of being in a working band today that’s not easy is the fact that music is now quantifiable. Everything has a number attached to it that represents its value -the antithesis of what art is supposed to be! When we were kids, we gravitated to music, we started bands because we wanted to do anything but what the cool kids at the cafeteria table were doing, what the Popularity Club liked. What’s not easy about being in a band today is now it’s a Public Popularity Club. Many listeners (not all!) judge whether music is good by the numbers attached to it … Welcome to the Kill Your Soul Zone, kids.

Tell me about Richard Baluyut’s role in your creative process.

Ray: Richard had never worked with a band like Elk City before. He became enamored with the way we “jammed” in a room together and would listen to the rehearsal recordings hundreds and times to conceive of ways to combine patterns and chord changes from different sections together.

Renée: He’s been the great researcher, if you will, in listening back to the jams and steering the ship of what jams should and shouldn’t be developed to become songs on the record. He put so much time into it. I can’t thank him enough for how he meticulously mapped out what should rise to the surface.

Magic Door is the name associated with both your studio and your new label. Can you tell us about each of these respective institutions and who is involved?

Ray: I opened Magic Door Recording in 2017 to be able to host bands in a professional studio environment. After working with Guided by Voices drummer Kevin March on seven or eight of their albums, as well as other projects, we hatched the idea to do the ultimate DIY thing and start a label based around music coming from Magic Door. We roped in Renee for her amazing creative mind, and Chris from Elk City is getting involved too. It’s an organic extension of what we do. Anything is possible.

Renée: We would meet for morning coffee at Magic Door Recording and talk about all the music being recorded at the studio. We were sitting in a factory of constant creativity, working with inspiring artists. We wanted to celebrate that publicly. We couldn’t not start a label.

Where next for Elk City and also for your studio and label?

Ray: Making more music – live and recorded. Bringing music from the underground to the surface.

Renée: Making more music, further connecting our visual artwork to our music, discovering new artists to record -both local and beyond, getting a coffee truck permanently parked in front of the Magic Door.

Thank you for your time and best of luck with everything for the future